Updated: Mar 7
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my mortality, and how friends and enemies will remember me. I do this not because I’m so deeply introspective. It’s just that I have to think of something while I’m watching that crackling high-definition fire log on the TV channel.
Will they think of that ridiculously handsome 23-year-old lad who joined The Gazette in the early ’60s, and for the next 40 years went on to misspell so many wurds and miss so many deadlines that the retirement party in his janitor’s basement was more like a wake—as in, “Wake up, Bob, you’re not in the office now”? I don’t know how many friends came up to me and said, “Phil, we’re gonna really miss you … no, really, we are.” I don’t even look like a Phil.
Or will they remember my drinking problem? Actually, what I really had was a spilling problem, which, when you think of it, is the true definition of a sloppy drunk. Most drunks can’t wait to get home and sleep; I couldn’t wait to get home and shower. That’s where I did most of my singing. You know: “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on my clothes, ninety-nine bottles of beer ...”
After the shower, I’d try to tip-stagger into bed without the little lady noticing. And by little lady I mean little lady, because at the time I was dating a dwarf. I’ll be honest: My wife always won this little game of cat-and-louse. God, it was ugly—me, in clothes, still soaking wet because I had forgotten to undress, and her waving a can of Mace.
“Drunk again,” she’d snarl. “What are you trying to do—set a new record?”
Me, the slurring newspaper hack: “There’s no such thing as a ‘new’ record. It’s just a ‘record.’ The ‘new’ is redundant.”
Then I’d add, weakly: “Does the Mace mean no sex tonight?”
Or another time:
Her, furious: “What are you doing home at this hour?”
Me, sarcastic: “It’s the only place that’s open.” Good times.
Despite our rocky marriage, my wife and I are still fairly close: She lives one street over from me. Will she cry when I’m gone? Maybe. Can I say the same about Herb Zurkowsky, the terrific Montreal Alouettes beat writer who joined The Gazette in 1978 and has yet to work from the office? You be the judge.
First, some background: Zurkowsky entered the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2008 after releasing three committee hostages. He’s known as a fearless interviewer. He leaves no stone unturned, unless it’s interfering with his ball on the fairway.
In short: Don’t mess with him.
And yet, I dared get on his bad side—albeit not intentionally.
It was early June in 1987. I was coming off a winter covering the Canadiens and Herb was getting ready for the CFL launch. It had been a good training camp. Zurk got into only three fights—all with rookies—and by the time camp broke, all the bruises had healed. The limp would need more time.
In other words, it was business as usual—until it wasn’t.
Here’s how it went down.
Two weeks before the Als’ opener, my dog, Sidney, was walking me in Beaconsfield. I turned a corner and there was Mayor Roy Kemp, a rabid Alouettes fan, on the lawn with his hoe, gardening.
“Beautiful day,” I yelled over, as the mayor approached. “Guess you’re anxious for the season to start?”
That stopped the mayor in his tracks. At first, I thought it was because Sidney had pooped on private property. His private property. It wasn’t.
“Haven’t you heard?” he asked. “The Als are folding.”
Yeah, sure, the Als are folding … and I’m gonna scoop up Sidney’s mess. Not happening.
“Why do you say that?” I fired back.
“Well, I’m a season ticket holder. I mailed them my cheque over a month ago, and when I hadn’t received my tickets by last week I phoned to ask why. The person in the ticket office told me the team was folding.”
The person in the ticket office? Certainly, that person isn’t privy to such startling news before the media? Before Zurk?
Two weeks later, and one day before the season opener, I was vacationing in Maine when the Als went bye-bye. That’s when I got on Herb’s bad side. I immediately apologized for my silence, and even genuflected before the great man. Yes, I should have passed on the tip, no matter how ridiculous-sounding it seemed.
Even though Zurkowsky said all was forgiven, I had my doubts. I lay low for the next three years. I wouldn’t leave home after dark. Actually, after twilight … okay, late afternoon. When I went to a restaurant, I’d pick the table closest to the exit or the bathroom (prostate problems). Unexpected packages delivered to my condo had to pass the Sidney sniff test. And the worst thing: I became paranoid … okay, more paranoid. I began looking for hidden messages in Zurk’s football stories.
Today, decades later, we remain friends. Pre-Covid, we’d see each other most summers at our Carter Cup golf tournament. Sometimes they’d even pair us together in the same foursome. We’d reminisce about journalism and our mutual friends within the industry. We’d talk politics, along with our shared love of music. We wouldn’t always agree: for instance, I like Shania Twain; Herb can’t stand the way she dresses.
But there’s one subject that never comes up, and never will: the “scoop” near the poop.